Daily Journaling with Morning Pages

September 6, 2022 • #

About a year ago I started experimenting with the idea of a daily journal. From someone within the Roam community, I heard about the concept of Morning Pages, which is a tool for creative writers to build a muscle for generating ideas. Author Julia Cameron defined it in her book The Artist’s Way:

Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages—they are not high art. They are not even “writing.” They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page… and then do three more pages tomorrow.

Freeform journaling is something I used to do years ago with Day One, but not with a longer free space to ruminate. I mostly used that to document personal events, versus thoughts and ideas. My methodology with Morning Pages has been even more loose than as Cameron defines it. I don’t necessarily get my journaling done in the morning; I just have a goal to do it sometime once per day. The first-thing-in-the-morning writing sessions are definitely the most creative and interesting, but my plan collides with reality and makes it hard to do consistently. The only constraint I set are to write for at least 15 minutes, but my default timer is 25 (more on that in a minute). No topic is off-limits. Often I’ll take some event that happened the previous day and riff on it, or take from something I recently read or a podcast I listened to, or I’ll take a trigger off of something from my Writing Ideas page and expand on existing ideas.

The Artist’s Way’s canonical method is to write longhand, which I agree affords a benefit in mental stimulation that isn’t the same as typing. I’ve experimented a little bit with this and it’s alright — definitely good for the focus and flexibility. Because you don’t need a computer or tablet, you can write anywhere you’ve got paper, and you don’t need access to a particular application. But there are too many advantages to journaling digitally to use the analog method, for me. The key determinant for whether analog or digital is better is: _which one will get you to journal more regularly? Or more deeply?

My tool of choice these days, and for the past 6 months or so, is Logseq, a networked note-taking tool that’s gotten popular in the tools-for-thought space. It’s essentially an open source Roam look-a-like, with a sprinkling of unique aspects.

But the tool itself is irrelevant beyond the fact that I write my journal entries digitally, and that the graph-based model makes for some interesting additional features for the journaling flow.

Logseq has built-in “Journals” — a function that auto-generates a new date-stamped page for each day (like Roam’s Daily Notes). I use the day’s journal for any running activities for the day, things like a scratchpad for meeting notes, reflections on my daily Readwise highlights, general passing thoughts, todos, and my Morning Pages.

I start by creating a block called [[Morning Pages]] and nest the journal entry as blocks underneath. Because that’s a link and a page itself, I can go to the Morning Pages page and see a list of every entry in the linked references. I’ll also add a word count at the top block so I can see my progress. My favorite thing about writing in a zettelkasten-style system like this is the ability to link from within my journaling to other ideas in my notes library.

Then I just write. Sometimes not even in full sentences. And without fail, every time I wall off the time to do this, with no commitments on word counts or topics or boundaries, I can pour out a thousand words easily. My daily average word count is in the 500-1000 words range, but some entries really spark the brain and go close to 1500. Since mid-August I’ve written around 14,000 words in journal entries, and it doesn’t even feel that hard. Mixing in the personal stuff also leaves a nice trail of my thinking about family life and what we were doing each day that I enjoy going back and looking at later. Seeing my old entries in Day One from 7 or 8 years ago is always enjoyable. I’d love to look back in years and have a daily record of my stream of consciousness.